Q&A w/ Brendan Minish
The Cannabis Review decided to start a Q&A series so we could sit down with some of Ireland & Europe's leading cannabis experts to help showcase the level of knowledge and competence in the cannabis sector and to help educate you the reader. We commence in Ireland with governmental policy expert and cannabis activist Brendan Minish.
1. When did you get involved in the cannabis industry? I’ve been a cannabis consumer (with a lengthy break in my 30’s) since my late teens. I’m glad I discovered cannabis, when I did as I was dealing with a lot of trauma and cannabis, helped me find my way at a time in life when I was at risk of developing issues with binge drinking. I wouldn't consider myself ‘involved in the industry at present. I’m an activist advocating for Drug policy reform. The current drug policy is a grave injustice that must be corrected. At this stage though, Ireland needs to get moving with reforms or we will be left behind whilst the rest of the world moves onwards.
Post -legalisation I do intend to take part in the industry, I have a real interest in exploring how legal cannabis fits into the arts and entertainment industries and would love to be involved with developing shared consumption spaces as part of a legal retail market.
2. You spoke at the Justice Department Joint Committee debate on decriminalising drugs, do you think it was a success?
Yes, however, I’m not sure that it’ll lead to much progress in the short term and the scope was narrow in that the remit of the debate was only to look at decriminalisation. Decriminalisation of personal possession (the drug user) is just a vital first step we need to make in terms of reforming our drug policy.
I hope progress is made as soon as possible but decriminalisation is also only the beginning of the reforms that we must make if we are to tackle the high rate of drug-related harm to both consumers and society. It was good to see members of the Cannabis risks alliance there since in open debate it’s easy to see that they are not arguing from a position of integrity and that their position is an ideological one founded in prohibition.
I did not hear the CRA Representatives offering solutions to the many issues being raised by the committee. Their justifications for ongoing prohibition rings hollow when you consider Ireland’s drug death rate has been nearly 3 times (~ 13X Portugal) the EU average for many years now, Current policy is clearly not working.
3. When do you see Ireland legalising adult-use cannabis?
Ireland has some of the most restrictive laws around cannabis in Europe, overly restrictive laws are ‘brittle’ in the face of later rulings. Ireland is likely to lose one or more cases in the high court with regard to CBD products and at some point ‘zero tolerance laws and definitions of cannabis cannot survive.
The question at that point is what does Ireland do? It’s getting a bit late to have another go at prohibition and a loss in the courts will create an urgent need for law reform. Do we see an ‘Irish solution’ where the laws stand (for now) but the Direction is issued by the DPP that most cannabis possession cases are ‘unsound’? Do we amend the law by Deschuling Cannabis by removing it from the misuse of drugs act, this requires only an amendment to pass. Amending the law to redefine cannabis in the Misuse of drugs act in a way that removes a conflict with EU law around Hemp (& hemp agriculture) whilst continuing to prohibit THC will be far less straightforward.
4. What are the three drug policy decisions you would make if you were in power?
We need to recognise that drug use is normal human behaviour and that the role of government is to ensure the safety and security of citizens. Personal possession needs to be decriminalised, for all substances, this is a simple first step and enables a far more inclusive conversation around how Ireland legalises Drugs Cannabis is a plant with a myriad of uses, it should never have been made illegal. However, we do need a legal framework around how it’s produced, processed and sold. We also need to resist the temptation to over-regulate just to appease the fears of prohibitionists! The plant is an agricultural commodity and as such existing rules governing agriculture will be a good starting place. It is important to remember that the safety profile of cannabis (even in an unregulated black market) is far better than alcohol. Cannabis flower, seeds and other products intended for human consumption will require some additional regulation but requiring precise potency labelling and ‘seed to sale’ tracking of every product is likely to create both barriers to entry and impede progress towards cannabis/Hemp eventually returning to its rightful place in the globally traded commodities markets.
The consumer-facing retail market will need quite a bit of nuanced regulation if we are to truly minimise harm, however even a ‘free for all, unregulated ‘grey’ market ) would be far less harmful to society & individuals than the current black market run by Organised Crime.
I’d consider the basics of Cannabis regulation to be: Recreational use Age restriction to 18 & above, with ID requirement as for alcohol at retail.
A moratorium, at least to begin with, on cannabis product advertising & sponsorship. Retail outlets can promote themselves & advertise events but no promotion of products. ‘Bud-tenders’ in commercial retail should be appropriately trained. Potency information is important to convey to the consumer, however, it also risks becoming a marketing number and I’d prefer a system that requires labelling of the major components (THC/CBD/Terpenes) in more general terms (no/low/medium/high/very-high) and details of the cultivar.
Medical cannabis, Extracts, concentrates and edibles may need additional labelling indicating potency & dosage advice.
Packaging must be reusable to avoid creating yet another plastic waste stream. We need to facilitate social consumption, social consumption is harm reduction. Consumption (smoking) should be permitted anywhere tobacco smoking is permitted, without discrimination. (I.e if a premises wishes to reduce nuisance odours, the options are to remove the smoking area or improve ventilation.) Consumption(vaping) should be permitted indoors except where prohibited by the management. My top 3
Decriminalize all drugs and work towards legislating for a safe supply of substances.
Legalise Cannabis for adult use, don’t over-regulate, and be prepared to amend and evolve legislation as the market develops.
Legislate for general medical use of cannabis, under GP supervision for anyone who might benefit, with reimbursement on the medical card & price capping under the Drugs Payment Scheme.
5. Rank the party most likely to legalise cannabis.
6. Can you explain the current stop and search laws in Ireland?
The 1977 Misuse of drugs act, gave Gardí for the first time in Ireland, the power to stop and search anyone based solely on the suspicion of a Garda that an individual may be carrying illegal drugs, it’s a very low threshold of ‘suspicion’ with zero consequences for the Gardí if they get it wrong. Prior to the Misuse of drugs act, Terrosim were the only warrantless grounds for Stop and search. I suspect society would not tolerate Gardí using such terrorism legislation widely & with flimsy evidence. This stop & search power is hugely misused and there appears to be no oversight as to how these powers are being used. Stop and search has led to an extremely corrosive relationship between Gardí and the citizens they are supposed to be serving. Gardí claimed in 2017 (as part of the 2017 consultation on drugs policy ) that these powers are ‘essential’ and were cited as a reason why we cannot decriminalise drugs. This is patently absurd and was clearly warned about in the 1975 Debate on the Misuse of drugs act. Here’s what Charles Haughey (FF) had to say on this at the time.
I want to direct the Minister's attention to this danger. We might agree that it is right and proper to give the Garda special arbitrary powers where drugs are concerned and the community might be prepared to waive certain rights to enable this problem to be dealt with, but how can we ensure or how can we guarantee that if the Garda are given certain draconian powers to deal with the drug situation those powers will not be used in other situations? If the Garda have the right to search premises without a warrant for drugs, how can we ensure that the Garda will not use that power to search particular premises for some other purpose on the pretext of looking for drugs? This is something we will have to look at very carefully when we come to Committee Stage.
7. What are your thoughts on the current drug driving laws?
A Farcical drug war piece of policy, not founded in evidence that is ruining lives and was rushed in ‘half baked’ to provide FG with ‘political cover as the news of ~1,500,000 falsified roadside breathalyser tests for alcohol was breaking. Prior to the 2016 act, Gardí had the power to charge someone who was driving under the influence, based on their professional opinion. It was a piece of law that did not need to be used very often and was at times subject to contest in the courts, however, this is the way our courts and justice are supposed to work!
The 2016 Act is very poorly designed and no attempt was made to correlate the allowable Blood sample limits with a threshold of impairment.
With Alcohol, there is a clear & well-established correlation between Blood alcohol levels and the risks of being involved in an accident. A BAC of around 0.06 equates to a doubling of the risk of involvement in an accident. No such relationship exists for most other substances, both legal and illicit.
The 2016 legislation attempts to set pragmatic limits for substances which also have legal uses (opiates, cocaine, ‘benzos’ ) yet for cannabis, we have set the limit very low indeed, at levels that most regular cannabis users will be above at all times. The politics behind this was not good, Here’s FG’s Paschal Donohoe in the 2016 RTA debate determined not to allow evidence to influence ideology by introducing the concept of ‘impairment’ into the legislation and seeking to treat ‘illegal’ drugs differently from those in established medical use.
Amendment No. 2 in the name of Senator Sean D. Barrett would amend the provisions around the proposed medical certificate exemption by introducing the concept of impairment. The purpose of the medical certificate of exemption is to allow an exemption from this new offence for people who are prescribed Sativex, which is a medicinal form of cannabis. This refers to the new offence of presence only and I believe that adding a reference to the concept of impairment at this point, where it is not relevant, might create confusion.
Let me return to the answer I offered to Senator Pat O'Neill when dealing with this group of drugs. We have delineated these drugs from other groups of drugs that could include prescription drugs and are saying that we judge the mere presence of these drugs alone to be so serious that it is a road traffic offence in its own right. It is for that reason I would not want to introduce an amendment which states: "where the drug use did not impair the person’s driving capability”. That dilutes and could be a direct contradiction of, the objective of this Part of the Bill, which states that the presence of these drugs alone is a road traffic offence.
What is even worse is that our drug driving law is a ‘Per-se’ law, if you are found over the limit set (which is tiny for cannabis and may well represent consumption days or even weeks ago ) you are automatically deemed to be guilty of ‘intoxicated driving’, Even our Gardí recognise that this. In addition, we do random roadside testing, not just testing those who are driving is a matter of concern. With regard to cannabis and driving, there isn’t a body of evidence showing that it’s much of a risk, In recent years there have been a couple of comprehensive & large meta-studies examining the actual risks. Both of which show that the increase in driving risks associated with recent cannabis consumption is modest and below the 2x risk factor that most countries legislate for in Drink driving laws.
Summary Of Conclusions Concerning Cannabis-Crash ORs
Taking the role of study biases into account, we have shown that the best epidemiological evidence concerning the risk of crashing after using cannabis (as indicated by testing positive for THC) is compatible with the null hypothesis that the recent use of cannabis has no effect at all (such that the cannabis-crash OR = 1.0). We will refer to that value as the ‘bias-adjusted cannabis-crash OR’.
It is possible that some researchers and policymakers might not agree with our bias adjustments. They would presumably, therefore, rely on the results of conventional cannabis-crash meta-analyses. The findings from our meta-analyses roughly agree with those of other recently published reviews: that the recent use of cannabis increases the risk of crashing by 50% or less (such that the cannabis crash OR is not greater than 1.5). We will refer to that value as the ‘meta-analytic cannabis-crash OR’.
Given that we found no convincing evidence for a dose-response relationship between the concentration of THC and the risk of crashing, we consider that our first two conclusions apply equally to all cannabis-crash risks irrespective of the THC cut-off thresholds.
We commented above that those drivers who had very recently consumed cannabis (within 2 or 3 h of crashing) might comprise a higher risk subset, who cannot necessarily be identified through high concentrations of THC. And we noted that Rogeberg and Elvik (2016b) had estimated that their crash risk could be doubled (such that the cannabis-crash OR = 2.0). We will refer to that value as the ‘immediate cannabis crash OR’.
Good Road safety law needs to be founded on evidence, just like good drug policy & reform of our drug policy will also require reform of our drug driving law as it’s not fit for purpose.
A trigger for reform might be Ireland coming into line with the EU on the law surrounding CBD flowers since with such low limits it is possible to exceed the limit with full spectrum CBD products containing traces of THC.
You can follow Brendan Minish on Twitter via @b_minish
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